Hello and welcome to my review of the Pearl Izumi EM Trail N2 running shoes. The Pearl Izumi EM Trail N2 has been out for a few years. In fact, Pearl Izumi just released the Trail N2 V2 version of this shoe. However, since the original N2 version will still be available and can likely be found on sale, I thought a brief review of the shoe would still be useful.
I have currently run over 160 miles in these shoes. I also used them during The North Face Endurance Challenge (TNFEC) GORE-TEX 50 mile in April 2015.
When I was looking for a shoe to run the TNFEC 50, I wanted something with solid cushioning and protection, but not overly heavy, for the many hours I would be on my feet. I ultimately decided on the Trail N2 over a few other options, such as the Brooks Cascadia, New Balance 980 Trail, and a few others.
The ’N’ stands for Neutral and the ‘2’ stands the level of cushioning. In their road shoes, Pearl Izumi makes an N0, N1, N2, and N3. In their trail shoes, there is only and N1 and N2 (at the time of this review). The higher the number, the greater the cushioning.
This was my first experience in a Pearl Izumi shoe, but I had read good things about them over the last few years and I was eager to try a pair. The Trail N2 had also received particularly good reviews.
First, a summary of the shoe specs from runningwarehouse.com.
- Weight: 10.5 oz (size 9)
- Stack Height (Heel): 27 mm
- Stack Height (Forefoot): 17mm
A few words about the drop or offset of the Trail N2 and all Pearl Izumi E:Motion (EM) running shoes. A shoe’s drop is one thing that many people (including myself) look at in a shoe these days. I have run in shoes with various drops ranging from 0 mm (Saucony Virrata) to 12 mm (Brooks Ghost) and have enjoyed both. To me, it is more about how the shoe feels overall. Does it disappear on my foot or is it interfering with my stride? In my opinion, the drop is just one aspect of this and not the only aspect.
Pearl Izumi claims that Trail N2 is 4mm drop while Runningwarehouse.com measurements show it is about 10 mm. This is due to what Pearl Izumi calls a dynamic offset in their Project EM line. Basically, due to midsole design, Pearl Izumi claims the drop is about 4 mm at initial contact and increases through the transition. See Pearl Izumi’s video on how this works for more explanation. Pearl Izumi’s marketing is that this creates a smooth transition. To be honest, I cannot say one way or another if this makes a difference. I have worn other shoes that don’t claim to have a dynamic offset, but are still smooth. But whatever the reason, I can say definitely that the ride is smooth. More on this later.
With that out of the way, on to the rest of the review.
What I like
Overall, the Trail N2 feels great when you first put them on. Right out of the box, it feels like you’re putting on your favorite well worn and trusted shoes that have molded to your feet after countless miles. The seamless upper is smooth and comfortable. The upper seems thick and at first I was worried that they wouldn’t be breathable, but I haven’t found that to be the case. The forefoot also has plenty of room to splay and wiggle the toes, but doesn’t feel sloppy.
I am usually between a size 9 and a 9.5, depending on the shoe. In the Trail N2, I went with a 9.5 and it fit well. To be honest, it might have been a touch too large, but I think the 9.0 would have probably been two small. In general, I would rather a shoe be too large than two small, especially for long runs when feet have the tendency to swell the most.
During a run, the Trail N2 is also comfortable. I experienced a few blisters during TNFEC 50 mile race, but nothing excessive or especially painful. I attribute most of that to the extra moisture from running through puddles and mud. Generally, I save this shoe for longer trail runs, but I use it for shorter runs occasionally if I feel like giving my feet a break or just want to change it up.
I spoke about the dynamic offset above. To be honest, I am not sure if this is what is creating the ride on the Trail N2 or not. It is not something I can pinpoint while running. However, I will say that the ride is smooth. It is firm, but not harsh. I think Pearl Izumi has found a great balance that allows you to pick up the pace and also run long miles. I wouldn’t say that the Trail N2 is a fast shoe. I would prefer a more minimal and lightweight shoe when running sub-8 minute miles. But the N2 felt great in the 9+ minute per mile range. I haven’t tried the Trail N1, but I would imagine it would be more in line with faster paces.
(3) Plenty of cushioning and protection for long trail runs and ultras
The Trail N2 has excellent cushioning. In general, at 10.5 ounces I wouldn’t consider it a lightweight shoe. It is about as heavy a shoe as I will wear, but for the amount of protection it offers, it’s still a lightweight package overall compared to other shoes in the same class. It also has a rock plate in the forefoot to provide additional protection against sharp rocks. This was helpful during the TNFEC 50. My legs were sore after the race, but my feet felt great.
The traction in the Trail N2 is also excellent. The lugs are a good balance between being enough to provide good traction, but not being too big to slow you down. I’ve taken the Trail N2 on a variety of trails — from loose sand, hard packed dirt, gravel, and large rocks — and it performs equally well in all cases.
So far, the durability on the Trail N2 appears to be excellent. See the pictures of the outsole. This is after 160+ trail miles. Some wear of course, but overall still in good shape.
A big issue with durability in trail shoes is the upper since it will often wear out before the outsole. On several of my shoes, my big toe has worn a hole through the upper. There is no sign of that so far on the Trail N2. The upper seems durable, which is good for a trail shoe. It seems to be withstanding rocks, sticks, and toenails so far with no snags, tears, or holes.
I anticipate these shoes lasting many more miles.
What I don’t like
The Trail N2 is stiff. However, I think the stiffness is helpful for long runs. I find that it provides a bit more stability, so I didn’t mind it as much in the Trail N2. However, I generally prefer a more flexible shoe, but there are always trade-offs.
I did experience some heel slippage at first. This was partially due to the fact that it might have been a little to big, but I think it was also due to the initial stiffness. I used the lace locking technique (see picture below) to secure the heel. After doing this and some additional breaking-in miles, the heel slippage has not been an issue.
(2) Laces are too short
The laces on the Trail N2 are just barely long enough. This is also a problem on the Road N1 V2 shoe. I don’t like overly long laces, but just a little longer would be great.
That is about it. There wasn’t much to not like. Minor quibbles really.
Would I recommend this to a friend?
Yes, I would recommend this to a friend. Overall, the Trail N2 is an outstanding shoe.
I’m a mid-foot striker, but I believe these shoes would support a variety of foot strikes. Pearl Izumi shoes just have a great feel to them. The Trail N2 are on the firm and stiff side, but not overly so. In my opinion, the folks at Pearl Izumi have the firmness dialed perfectly to support those long runs but also allow you to pick up the pace and not feel sluggish or squishy.
Overall, I am a big fan of Pearl Izumi shoes. I also own the Road N1 V2 and the Road N2 V2. I plan to use the Road N1 V2 in a few upcoming marathons and the Road N2 V2 in the JFK 50 mile in November. All the Pearl Izumi shoes I’ve tried seem to have a similar fit and ride. If you have tried and like any of the other Pearl Izumi shoes, chances are you will like the Trail N2 as well. I’ll be writing a review of the Road N1 V2 and Road N2 V2 once I get a few more miles on them, so stay tuned for those.
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As always, comments are appreciated. Let me know of any thoughts or questions below. I hope you found this review useful. Thanks for reading.